U-Visa Certification Participation Removal to Affect Victims
WESLACO - A change at a Texas agency may stop crime victims in the country illegally from reporting criminal activity.
Texas Child Protective Services decided to stop their participation in the U-visa certification form program last spring due to a lack of cases.
However, the Texas Civil Rights Project, an Austin-based immigrant advocacy group, said the change removes a layer of protection for those victims. Glenaan O’Neil, regional director of immigrant victims at TCRP, said CPS’ decision will stop undocumented crime victims from coming forward.
The program, drawn up by Congress as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, started 17 years ago. It allows immigrant crime victims to stay in the U.S. for up to four years and makes them and their family members eligible to apply for a green card.
“It was created because law enforcement officers asked Congress to create a way to keep immigrant victims of crime in the U.S. if they are helpful in the investigation and prosecution of the crime against them,” O’Neil said.
An immigrant must be a victim of certain crimes to be eligible. A federal, state or local government agency investigating or prosecuting the case must sign the form that says the victim was helpful in their investigation or prosecution.
“Immigration will obviously look at it more in depth to see if the person really does qualify for this status so the certification is the problem here,” she said.
O’Neil helps undocumented children who are victims of rape, incest, sexual assault among other crimes.
“I had a client who qualified, and I was going to see if I could get a U-Visa Certification and I was told they were no longer doing them,” she said.
She said CPS’ decision will keep victims hiding in the shadows of the crime committed against them.
“Without a U-Visa program in place, clients are afraid to come forward because they think they’re just putting their name into the system, and so people know that they’re out there,” she said.
The agency said they are no longer a part of the program after a review from their legal department. They found CPS wasn’t signing off on enough U-Visa Certification forms to continue.
John Lennan, region media specialist for Texas Department of Family and Protective Services sent the following statement in regards to the agency’s decision:
“As part of routine review, the DFPS legal department reviewed the U-visa process that has been in place since 2010. The legal department concluded the certifications are more appropriate for criminal investigative agencies and instructed CPS to discontinue the practice in April of 2016. Since 2010, DFPS processed less than 10 applications a year.”
“Nobody should have to live with abuse. Nobody should have to stay in a dangerous situation for fear of losing a family member or being deported,” O’Neil said.
The Texas Civil Rights Project said some law enforcement agencies do sign off on certification forms. We checked in with the Hidalgo and Cameron County Sheriff’s Offices.
Hidalgo County said they sign off depending on each case. We have yet to hear from Cameron County.
The Texas Civil Rights Project helped 1,500 crime victims across the state in 2016.